(Bloomberg) — A $34 smartphone attachment to test for HIV and syphilis works almost as well as expensive lab equipment and could be used to make fast diagnoses in poor countries, researchers said.
The “diagnostic dongle” developed by New York’s Columbia University attaches to a smartphone through the audio jack and is thousands of dollars cheaper than top-of-the-line lab-based testing equipment that cost about $18,450.
In tests of 96 patients in Rwanda, the device correctly identified HIV and syphilis infections 92 percent to 100 percent of the time, depending on what disease it was testing for, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine Wednesday.
The test was used to identify disease in pregnant women that can be passed on to their children.
“If you diagnose and treat them on the spot, you can save the life of a newborn,” Samuel Sia, senior author of the paper and associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia, said in a telephone interview. “If it’s not treated, you can have stillbirth.”
Almost all of the patients in the trial said they would prefer the dongle to a traditional lab test, because of the convenience and quick results. The dongle uses disposable plastic cassettes, and is small enough to fit in one hand, the researchers said.